New peril for gray whale survival? Predatory orcas spotted in Baja calving lagoon
The long-standing mystery on whether there are any remaining gray whales is finally being solved, says biologist
It could be a year of miracles for the gray whale. It’s true that after more than a century, scientists have had a hard time finding the elusive beast. Now, one of the nation’s leading wildlife biologists says that the long-standing mystery of whether there are any remaining gray whales is finally being solved.
It has long been thought that gray whales, which once thrived in the cold, blue Pacific waters off California’s northern coast, migrated to the warmer waters of the Baja, Mexico, in the late 1940s or early 1950s, but a team of scientists, led by biologist John Beale, says the animals are alive and well for now.
“We’re seeing this first, but there could be many more gray whales,” Beale told National Geographic News. “I hope it’s now time to look back and say, ‘Wow. How did we miss this?’”
A team of marine scientists who began surveying the region in the early 2000s and then spent years studying data from acoustic tags on Pacific gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) carcasses and studies by other researchers, Beale says, was on the verge of making a big discovery.
Gray whales are a species of baleen whale that feed primarily on krill (a group of tiny marine animals called phytoplankton). Since the 1980s, however, most scientists have believed that because of the loss of some large predators – the killer whale (Orcinus orca), the gray whale’s primary predator, and its gray sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), an apex predator that was once common in California’s Baja California peninsula – the Pacific gray whale population has declined.
But in the early 2000s, the researchers began to spot the first Pacific gray whales in the waters off Baja, Mexico. They also began to receive acoustic tags from a team of volunteers who had set up an array of transmitters around the coast of Baja, including the San Ignacio Lagoon and San Ignacio Channel.
After six years of surveying the lagoon and the channels, which were the